Global warming is accelerating at a much faster rate than predicted by the IPCC, according to a new compendium of scientific research
In 2007, the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released their Fourth Assessment Report – a study of global warming that involved nearly 4,000 scientists from more than 150 countries.
However, the science of climate change has moved on in the year since this respected report was published. Climate change: faster, stronger, sooner [PDF: 1.65 MB], published this month by WWF, amalgamates this new scientific data and reveals that global warming is accelerating beyond the IPCC’s forecasts.
“Global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions released as a consequence of human activity have been accelerating, with their growth rate increasing from 1.1% per year between 1990 and 1999, to more than 3% per year between 2000 and 2004. The actual emissions growth rate since 2000 was greater than any of the scenarios used by the IPCC in either the Third or Fourth Assessment Reports.”
The report has received the support of climate change experts including Professor Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, Professor of Climatology and Environmental Sciences at the Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium, and newly elected Vice Chair of the IPCC, who said: “It is clear that climate change is already having a greater impact than most scientists had anticipated, so it’s vital that international mitigation and adaptation responses become swifter and more ambitious. The last IPCC report has shown that the reasons for concern are now stronger, and this should lead the EU to plead for a lower temperature target than the 2°C they adopted in 1996. But even with a 2°C target, the IPCC says that emission reductions between 25 and 40% compared to 1990 are needed by 2020 from developed countries. Reductions by 20% are therefore insufficient.”
The latest science shows that the Arctic Ocean is losing sea ice up to 30 years ahead of IPCC predictions. It is now predicted that the summer sea ice could completely disappear between 2013 and 2040 – something that hasn’t occurred in more than a million years. The report says:
“There is near consensus in the Arctic scientific community that significant aspects of this hastened loss of sea ice are caused by feedback mechanisms, the effects of which had been severely underestimated in the report. For example, a reduction in sea ice has meant that ocean waters have been warmed more by the sun, making it even more difficult to form and to retain sea ice the next winter. Indeed prominent scientists are now saying that we are at – or have already passed – the tipping point for the Arctic sea ice system.”
Based on recent scientific studies, the number and intensity of extreme cyclones over the British Isles and the North Sea are projected to increase, leading to increased wind speeds and storm-related losses over Western and Central Europe. The level of ozone, an air pollutant, is projected to be similar to that in the 2003 heat-wave, with major increases over England, Belgium, Germany and France. Annual maximum rainfall is also projected to increase in most parts of Europe, with associated flood risks and economic damages.
Marine ecosystems in the North and Baltic Sea are being exposed to the warmest temperatures measured since records began, while the Mediterranean is expected to experience increases in the frequency of long-term droughts. Glaciers in the Swiss Alps will continue to decrease, with reduction of hydropower production.
At a global level, sea level rise is expected to reach more than double the IPCC’s maximum estimate of 0.59m by the end of the century, putting vast coastal areas at risk. Rising temperatures have already led to a combined reduction in global yields of wheat, maize and barley of roughly 40 million tonnes or US$5 billion (€3.2 billion) per year.
The report says the emission reductions recommended by the IPCC are insufficient.
“A re-examination of the climate impacts reported in the Fourth Assessment Report indicates that 80% cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are needed by 2050 to keep global average temperature rise below 2°C – and to limit climate impacts to ‘acceptable’ levels. Such a cut would stabilise atmospheric greenhouse gas concentration at 400-470 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalents. However, even with an 80% emissions cut, damages will be significant, and much more substantial adaptation efforts than those currently planned will be required to avoid much of the damage.”